I got back through the door at about 10am on a relatively sunny Saturday morning and parked my backside on my recliner after another seemingly endless night shift. Just as I was set to doze off and sleep through the best part of the day, the my mobile rattled against my arm. Upon answering I was asked if I was sitting down. I made one of my usual flippant sarcastic responses. It was one of my mates and I thought he was being overly dramatic.
Less than an hour later I was in the dank waiting area of the intensive care unit in the Royal Alexandria Infirmary. The morning’s sunny disposition seemed like a lifetime ago. I was surrounded by extended family, relatives of friends and team-mates.
The night before, while I was hard at work staving off the drowsy effect caused by unadulterated levels of boredom and all the other misery associated with a loneliness and a dead end job in security, many of my friends were out doing what many friends do on a Friday night; partying until close. Frustration at the situation, and more so the fact I couldn’t do a damn thing about it after the fact, drove me to try to figure out exactly what led to the current situation. Out drinking they were, until the the wee small hours of Saturday morning. One of their number, quite uncharacteristically for this individual, was in a bit of a state, so much so that the guys had to bundle him into a taxi and pay the driver in advance to drive him to his front door the next town over.
He didn’t quite get that far. As it transpired, the taxi driver stopped on a dark stretch of road at the request of my friend. He wanted to throw up, but had the presence of mind and enough semblance of decency to want to avoid doing so in someone else’s vehicle. As soon as he stepped out of the vehicle, the driver drove off and left him, abandoning an heavily inhebriated young man in total darkness on a 60mph stretch of road with no footpath. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out from there what happened next.
My best friend of nearly 20 years was lying in a coma, suffering serious brain injuries and a severed spine. 20 years of Scouts, rugby, and latterly American football. We were kindred spirits in a way.
I have always been a bombastic character with a relatively quick temper. I have a tendency to get frustrated with the actions of others when I deem them to have been incompetent, driven by selfishness or greed, or counter to an instruction that had been given. He was, on the other hand, almost the exact opposite. It’s going to sound like a cliché, but no-one ever had a bad thing to say about him. He was gregarious, relaxed, and generally a joy to be around. He was the yin to my yang. For years we ran the American football club at the university; I was the authoritarian that dealt with rules, regulations, and club matters, and he was the gentle hand that smoothed ruffled feathers.
I don’t think I could count the number of times I called him, incandescent with rage, ranting down the phone about whatever problem had arisen at the club because of someone else’s wrongdoing. He never needed to say much, he just let me vent until I’d worked out the solution or best course of remedial action for myself.
Almost at the flick of a switch, that was gone. Until that moment I had no real appreciation of how much I relied on his input or his character to pull me through the situations and problems that life had thrown in my path.
To avoid the way I felt, I threw myself into helping others make sense of what had happened. There were many nights out where friends would burst into tears, and the atmosphere at team parties would take a sudden almost mournful turn as soon as any of our number would openly dwell on it.
In the months that followed he regained consciousness. In many ways I had found it easier to visit him before he woke up. His trachea had been broken when the ambulance crew had inserted the breathing tube, destroying his vocal chords. His spinal injuries had left him almost completely paralysed. To communicate we had to lip read, and to my detriment, it took me far longer to pick up than anyone else. Once I had tackled my complete inability to lip read and raised my game to a level somewhere between inept and almost competent, new issues became apparent. I felt massive guilt whenever we spoke. After a couple of months we’d gone over all the old stories and memories we had together, so we’d end up talking about what I was doing and what my future plans were, and what I was doing to get my career back on track, and what I’d got up to at the weekend… You’re probably beginning to get the picture. There I was, talking to a guy who can’t move, and likely never will again, about things I was going to do because I was able. As the months rolled on, it was clear to everyone involved that his condition would never really improve. I remember vividly the first time he told me that he wished he had died the night he was hit. How do you respond to that? How do you move on from that statement? I was dumbstruck, but I understood.
How does all this relate to my musical identity? It became a retrospective rather than a proactive endeavour. I drew from music I already knew from my youth. The faster and heavier the better, and if it’s not fast or heavy, it better be melancholic. It was like comfort food. A need to connect with the pain of others, as if the shared experience would carry me through.
Back to ’01-’08: Post-Millennial.
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